New Jersey and Virginia elections tell Democrats to get it together

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Glenn Youngkin | Flickr

Dani Heba

Election Day left Democratic officials scrambling, as Virginia gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe was defeated by his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, while Phil Murphy, the incumbent Democratic governor in New Jersey, barely edged out his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, in a race that was too close to call until the evening of Nov. 3.

The results in both states were especially shocking given that in the 2020 election, President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10% and New Jersey by almost 16%.

Democrats are now left wondering, how did this turnaround happen so quickly?

One blunder in the campaign process was the Democratic Party’s obsession with former President Donald Trump. McAuliffe centered his campaign on being the opposite of Trump, painting Youngkin as Virginia’s Trump. However, what he failed to acknowledge is that as of recent polls, Trump is actually more popular than Biden, albeit by a small margin of 47-46.

With this information well known prior to the election, McAuliffe and Murphy could have hammered down on specific issues important to voters such as education and the economy.

“It’s the economy, stupid” James Carville said in 1992, as he was advising former President Bill Clinton on what issues he should focus on in a run for the White House, which ultimately proved successful.

McAuliffe could have taken this advice, given that 65% of voters described the current economy as “poor” with only 30% expecting it to improve in the next year. However, the economy is not in terrible shape right now.

McAuliffe could have done himself a favor if he pointed to statistics to reassure voters that their worries were unnecessary.

Likewise, p many parents were concerned about issues such as critical race theory being taught in schools, as polls in Virginia showed a majority of Republicans and independents oppose it being taught.

Another concern of parents was mask mandates in schools, where 51% of Republicans oppose the mandates. On issues like education, Democrats mostly deflected and just compared Youngkin to Trump. Republicans hammered down on these concerns, costing Democrats big time in Virginia and making it much too close for comfort in New Jersey.

National politics are another major concern for voters, many of whom saw this election as a referendum on the Democratic Party.page1image1045056 page1image1046400

Nationwide, Biden’s approval rating is at roughly 43%, while his disapproval rating is roughly 50%. To make matters worse, exit polls in Virginia found that more voters cast their ballot to demonstrate their opposition to Biden than to have his back by a 28% to 20% margin.

It’s even worse for Democrats when former President Barack Obama, still the most popular figure in the Democratic party, couldn’t help despite campaigning heavily for both McAuliffe and Murphy.

The question then becomes why is the popularity of the Democratic Party shrinking on a national level?

In large part, it is because Democratic and independent voters turned out in large numbers in 2020 upon the promise that Biden would lead the country to higher standards in a post-Trump era.

However, Republicans seized the moment this year, turning out in larger numbers than Democrats.

One issue that mobilizes Republicans and could have swung the middle-class white female vote to Republicans, is the Democrats’ unnecessary race-baiting. Some Democrats even called the outcomes instances of white supremacy.

It seems that Democrats, particularly the progressive wing, haven’t gotten the message: calling people with opposing views privileged or white supremacists won’t get them to feel bad. Rather, animosity toward the Democratic Party is fostered among middle and working-class white folks, as seen with the share of suburban white women’s votes swinging to Republicans.

No white person who is struggling to make ends meet will sympathize with such messaging.

In fact, calling the Republican win in Virginia an act of white supremacy is not accurate, as Republicans elected the state’s first Black woman to be lieutenant governor and the state’s first Latino attorney general. When Democrats, particularly progressives, label everything white supremacy and privilege, they give Republicans more talking points to ridicule them while distracting voters from important issues.

Additionally, the issue of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal took a huge hit on Biden’s approval. Most people agree that it was the right decision to withdraw, but people also think the Biden administration did a poor job executing it.

The chaos at the Kabul airport, the Taliban’s taking of abandoned U.S. military equipment and the ensuing humanitarian crisis are all impacting the president’s popularity, and rightfully so.page2image817024

One of Biden’s biggest issues that he campaigned on was COVID-19.

He argued that by electing him and Democrats, their leadership would squash cases and oversee an imminent return to normalcy. This is not the case, as mask mandates are still in effect in many parts of the country, despite the imminent approval of Merck and Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pills, the existence of safe and effective vaccines and a downward trend in hospitalizations and deaths.

To make matters even worse, there is chaos within the Democratic party itself.

Despite coming to a bipartisan agreement on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill with incredibly beneficial perks, including investment in green energy, roads, and transportation, progressive members refused to pass the bill unless the proposed $3 trillion social safety net package was also passed.

This impasse likely impacted both very moderate and very progressive Democrats’ desire to turn out, but in an even more devastating impact to the party, independents swung toward Republicans.

However, there is a bright spot for Democrats.

They do have time, as the midterm election is still a year away. They must realize that the clock is ticking and that they must unite their party to pass legislation.

Instead of focusing on Trump, who will not be on the ballot until 2024, if at all, Democrats must focus on how they, as the party in control of both the legislative and the executive branches, have benefitted peoples’ lives and will continue to do so if elected again.

Aside from the American Rescue Plan Act, which has caused worries of inflation, Democrats have scored no wins for Americans.

It seems that this message has gotten through to the Democratic establishment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally got the vote on the long-awaited infrastructure bill passed and sent it to Biden’s desk.

However, to score another true win, the progressive Democrats, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, and the borderline-Republican wing of the party, including Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, must stop playing games and work on an agreement for the social safety spending bill to be passed as soon as possible.

With the passage of the infrastructure bill, the possible passage of the social safety spending bill, and better messaging and a light at the end of the pandemicDemocrats could reinvigorate a base waiting for 2020 campaign promises to be met before what otherwise will be a catastrophic 2022.

They don’t have time to waste.